Thursday, September 21, 2006

NASCAR Race @ Loudon, NH

If cyclocross is the NASCAR of racing, then I’ve kicked off the season in fine form! While many of my future competitors were lining up at the first ‘cross race in the region, I was in line at the Dupont tent getting a beer!
My co-worker P-Diddy and I headed south on 95 at 5am, destination: Loudon,NH. A former hockey player of mine runs a tire/car repair business on the Cape and his dad always has 2 tickets and tent passes for me at the 2 Loudon races. I skipped the summer race due to an mtb race conflict, but I couldn’t miss 2 in a year! Besides, this is the first race of the Chase and the competition is intense.
Pat and I arrived at 7:30am, strolled through the merchandise trailers, bought gifts for Babs and the kids, and headed for the tent. Breakfast was being served so we found a spot and hung out with the Klucevseks and waited for Jeff Gordon to show up. Because of the size of the crowd, there aren’t any autograph signings or 1 on 1’s with Jeff. They do allow you to write down a question though and select 5 people to come up, shake hands with Jeff, and ask him your question in front of the entire crowd. As luck would have it, I got picked for the 2nd year in a row. It’s all about coming up with an entertaining question. I said “Everyone knows you can drive a stock car fast on a race track, but can you resurface the ice in less than 10 minutes driving a Zamboni 9mph?” He and the crowd got a kick out of it and we had a couple of back and forths when he said he was concerned the ice would be slippery and I said you have to stay off the boards! I told him he had a job when he was done racing and he said that pays what, $8,000,000?
Then the turkey dinner was served and Pat had his 6th beer while I eased into my 3rd. It’s unique starting drinking at 10am!
The race was entertaining for sure. It was hot as Hades as you would sweat just sitting there. There were a few crashes and some good side by side racing. But there were also some long green flag runs and that’s when the turkey and heat and no more beers took effect. The finish was exciting with a crash near the end, resulting in a 5-lap sprint finish which my boy Kevin Harvick ran away with.
So, while some guys were actually on their bikes racing, I was sweating my ass off, sucking down beers and inhaling fumes. That is excellent ‘cross preparation as far as I’m concerned! Bring on the green flag!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Dog Chase Hillclimb

Me - 1st
Dog - Last

Was out for a tempo/interval ride yesterday. I was in the final 3 minutes of a 15 minute hard effort going uphill when man's best friend decides I'm dinner and wants to hunt me down.
I hear the barking up ahead and then see what appears to be a black lab bombing down the driveway to meet me head on. Normally I wouldn't expect this from a lab, so it must have had part wolf in him because it had more anger and teeth than any household pet I know of!
I'm working hard, but seeing Cujo coming at me forced me to dig into that satchel of stength you only break out at sprint finishes. The dog underestimated my acceleratio, and leaves toe nail skid marks on the road, then peels out after me for the chase.
The rulebook says I have options:
1. Yell at the dog sternly to go home.
2. Praise the dog in a soft, calm voice and tell it to sit.
3. Spray it with a water bottle.
4. Stop, put my bike between me and the dog and keep it at bay until the owner shows up.
5. Work on your sprinting.
I chose #5. Those other choices may work in other situations I'm sure. I just saw my leg as a juicy steak, and a hungry dog. I got the ham sandwich out of there!
The dog kept up for about 25 yards, but never closed to more than 10' away.
I reached the top of the climb, completed my effort, and gave a 1 finger victory salute!
It's been a slow month obviously!
Next up is the MMBA/NECS mtb final at Reid State Park (unless Fido wants to go again!).

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

GMSR – Wrapup

It’s back to reality here in Maine now. I had a bit of difficulty sleeping no doubt due to fatigue, although my legs aren’t sore. I would classify my entire body as “worn.” It was surprising to realize how much upper body I used all weekend when sprinting and muscling up climbs.
My general opinion of the stage race is I’m content with my finish within my class. I can’t imagine I could have improved on my Prologue time as I was redlining it from the start. The Circuit Race came down to the sprint which isn’t my specialty, so I’m content with that finish. The Road Race will be remembered as an opportunity lost. All I had to do was match the surge up the last 30 yards of the Middlebury Gap and I would have been in the front field and could have certainly earned a better finish. However, the group of 6 of us made the most of the situation and to finish only 6 minutes behind the winner was a real accomplishment. The Criterium was a blur, literally. I gave it all I had and am pleased with the result.
Overall, I think my top-20 GC is accurate. Could I have cracked the top-15? Absolutely. But the lessons learned and the experience gained puts me in a good position to shoot for a top-10 in the Masters 40+. Crap, I’ll be 40 next year! I definitely underestimated the category I was in. The field I am actually licensed for was the Cat. 4 35+. I can pretty much bet everyone ahead of me was both younger and/or a Cat. 1-3. All of my finishing times would have won the events in the other category. At least I can’t be accused of sandbagging! Instead of bringing home prize money, I brought home experience and the satisfaction of knowing I was competitive in an elite field. It was by far the hardest, cleanest, funnest road racing I’ve ever experienced!
I’m taking some deserved time off and beginning the transition to cyclocross, the final bike season!

GMSR – Criterium

30 laps, 18.6 miles

Masters 30+
19th Final GC

The final event was the criterium held on downtown Burlington. There was a threat of showers, but thankfully it just stayed overcast. The course was dangerous enough with out adding the element of losing grip in the turns. It was a 6-turn circuit with a decent climb to the finish, a brick s-turn section, and a mad descent into the final turn.
The race started out with a bang. We went all out right from the whistle. I hoped perhaps the pace would be a little mellow coming off of the previous day’s road race. But no, not this group! I hung on for dear life!
After missing the boat yesterday, I was committed to staying in the pack today at whatever cost, but it about cost me my soul! I was VERY close to sitting up and coasting home about mid-race. Thankfully, the pace slowed just at the right time and enough for me to recover and keep up. On the day, we averaged 26mph and my heart rate averaged 179bpm, with a high of 195! That’s giving it all I’ve got!
I set myself up in good, but most important; safe, position heading down the descent into the final turn. Then it was a mad dash to the finish where I lost 1 spot. I was happy with the finish and the news I re-entered the top-20 in GC.
Whew, now for some rest!

GMSR - Road Race

64.7 miles

Master 30+
22nd GC

Just back from the toughest road racing event I’ve ever competed in! This one had everything: rain, hills, wind, sun, hills, descents, did I mention hills?!
The race start time was 8:50am so it was an early rise to get breakfast in. I knew it was going to be a long day in the saddle, so I figured eggs, waffles and coffee were a good base. It’s difficult to force food down that early in the morning despite the fact you know you’re going to need the fuel later. I could only predict what I would need later and hoped 3 bottles and 3 gels would keep the fire burning. Once I was getting dressed I debated heavily whether to take the 3rd bottle as it was chilly and rainy and I figured I wouldn’t be too thirsty. I stuck it in the jersey pocket anyway, but never ended up using it. I decided no warm up was better than getting soaked before the race even started and hoped the neutral start and the LONG race would be ample, it was a good call as I felt fine off the line.
The course was 64.7 miles long with 2 major climbs: Middlebury Gap about halfway through with an 18% grade section, then the backside of the Appalachian Gap with a couple of 20% grades to the finish. My pre-race thoughts flip-flopped between just surviving and finishing top-10. turns out the former won out. We departed Mt. Ellen in the rain and had a neutral descent to Rt. 100. Once on 100, it was a rolling route that had us accelerating off and on. Some guys apparently tried to go off the front, but to no avail. Strength in numbers was the theme for today. I was feeling quite good. The legs were tired yesterday, but they gave no early indication they would fail me today.
We hit the base of Middlebury as a pack and began the climb. Everything was going fine. I was in a group and felt OK. Then as we approached the summit, there was an acceleration that I didn’t respond to. I thought guys were going for King of the Mountain and then would let up on the descent. I thought wrong and the race for me went from one of possibilities, to one of survival. I was effectively dropped and could not catch up. As I had never seen the course, I had to be cautious on the descent as it was fast, wet, and had many turns. The group ahead had the advantage to work together and motored away on the flats. All I could do was go solo and hope to either latch on to other stragglers ahead or form a group with others behind me. The latter won here. 6 of us set to the task of hoping to catch back on, or at least maintain position and not get caught from behind. This was the most cooperative racing experience I’ve ever been a part of. We were basic a team time-trial train. One would pull for about 10 seconds, the pull off to the left and let the next one through. We were an efficient machine and everyone worked. Unfortunately the gap was too great to catch the leaders. 6 guys chasing 20 or so is no-contest. There was a time in there where I felt like I couldn’t keep the pace we were setting. I had to skip a couple of pulls, had a little to eat, took a leak for the 2nd time (at this point, I can’t feel bashful about pissing while riding. I’ll be doing the laundry anyway!). We stuck together all the way to the base of the App. Gap where it was every man for himself. I luckily had enough left in the tank to pull ahead of 3 of the other guys. The wind and weather was at its worst on the final 4K. It was Mt. Washington all over again! But the crowd on the side of the road was supportive and helped get us over the top even when all I wanted to do was get off and walk! Fred Thomas was in the field ahead and finished top-5. Guess I should have been on his tail today!
Next up is the Criterium in downtown Burlington, if I have anything left!

GMSR - Circuit Race

53 miles (2 ¾ laps on a 19.5mile loop)

Master 30+
19th GC

I don’t know what to make of these circuit races. They’re generally long loops with little change in terrain to split up the group. We all end up riding around for a long time and then have a sprint finish. There was one good climb, but the descent and flat generally discouraged anyone from getting away. Having said that, apparently 1 guy did so kudos to him. I wonder if he’ll have anything left for tomorrow’s RR. To make matters worse, there were crashes on the descent on our 1st and 2nd laps (we only went by 3 times) so we had to go through neutral leaving zero incentive to make a break on the climb.
Today I wanted to use this race as a learning experience and I told myself to stay with Fred Thomas and mirror his tactics. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to analyze as we pretty much stayed together. There were no legit breaks so there wasn’t much chasing, just accelerations.
As I said, it all came down to the finish. We were at the 1K to go when I pulled up along Fred and asked what he thought. He said it was a long way to go so we stayed towards the front of the pack. Shortly thereafter, guys around me started going and I latched on to a wheel and went, TOO EARLY! For some reason, my leadout let up halfway to the finish for whatever reason so I was on my own. I thought I could keep going, but the distance was greater than I thought and my sprint was turning into a long interval. Then woosh, a ton of guys went by and I was screwed! No I really don’t like these races!
I thought I was buried in the 30’s, but was pleasantly surprised I maintained my top-20 standing.
Next up is the grueling Road Race. I hope I can climb well.

Green Mt. Stage Race - Prologue

8.2 mile Hillclimb

Master 30+
20th GC

I arrived in Warren, VT yesterday after a 4.5 hour drive due east. Man, is it ever difficult to go east-west in northern NE! I’m glad I got the drive over with and was able to set up camp. I’m staying at the Powderhound which I picked because it has suites. Hopefully I’m saving money by being able to prepare all my meals rather than eat out. The place has everything I need to cook, except for a stove. I don’t know what I was thinking but I brought a frozen pizza and had no way to cook it. I ended up heating it up on a frying pan, it tasted just as good! I was a little concerned there wasn’t a bathtub as I was planning to take ice baths after each stage. A dip in the pool put to bed those worries, it’s super chilly!
I’m flying solo this weekend as it was too much of a trip to drag the whole family to. I expect to host former KHS ski coach Jack Bailey Saturday night as he’s competing in the Citzen’s race on Sunday. I also met PVC president “Fast” Fred Thomas. He won the 4/5 35+ race last year so I’ll be watching him. He screamed up the hillclimb today so he’s off to a good start.
I was learning new things about the stage race right up until yesterday! The big news was the fact that the prologue today was not a traditional timetrial. It was a hillclimb, thus negating the need for a true TT bike. Also, it was a mass start so all you had to do was take notice of where you are at in the field to determine your position. I thought this was a good thing as you can compete against others rather than the clock. What I learned just yesterday was the entire stage is based on points, not time, so it made sense the prologue was a mass start rather than timed. This means, your daily finish position has a set amount of points awarded to it. Your final GC position is based upon # of points accumulated, finish times mean nothing. Heading into the prologue I thought these revelations were good, we’ll see how it plays out in the end.
Today was perfect riding weather, 70’s and sunny, negligible wind. I had a good warmup and was ready to go. We lined up and rode through Waitsfield in a controlled start. This is supposed to mean the pace car keeps us at a moderate pace so no one can go off out front. The TargetTraining team must have pressured the driver to speed up because we were definitely at race pace from the get-go! Once we turned onto Rt.17 it was on. I hung around the front, even taking a couple of turns pacing at the outset because the steep stuff was yet to come. Once the road went vertical, the true racers emerged.
The route was a total of 8.2 miles, 7.3 after the neutral start, with the last 2.7 of it gaining 1276ft. of elevation at an average of 10% grade. There’s not much to say other than everyone is pretty much going as hard as they can. Drafting no longer is an aid. People are basically redlining it and just accepting their position as the best they can achieve. At least, that was my approach! This climb seemed a lot harder to me than Mt. Washington. It was really only about 2 miles of steeps compared to Mt. Washington’s 7. But I guess you don’t pace yourself to make the distance, you just go harder than you would really prefer to pick up positions to the finish.
My finish was unfortunately not as high as I expected it would be. I came into the weekend with a lot of confidence in my climbing. I was definitely going at my max, 190HR for a portion, and 185avg. My legs felt OK, I just don’t think I could go any harder. Perhaps if I used a harder gear I could have made up some time, but as the finish line loomed, I wasn’t close enough to improve my standing so I just rode it out. My hope is I will pick up positions as the weekend goes on like at Fitchburg. However, as I said, this is a points race and Fitchburg was a time race. So, it may be more difficult to score top stage finishes. My approach from here is to earn top-10 finishes and see how I end up.
Next up is the 53 mile circuit race.

NECS #8 Pinnacle, Newport, NH

1st/5 Expert Vet I

I added this race to hopefully improve upon my current standing in the New England Mountain Bike Championship Series. I lost some ground after the Bradbury and Exeter, NH races. This was a tall order as Newport, NH is 3+ hours away from home. Race time was 10am so it was another early rise and departure (5am) to make it. Babs and the boys stayed back to enjoy being in their own beds!
The course description sounded favorable: some climbing, sweet singletrack, etc. I was hoping to avoid words like “technical!” Upon arrival it was overcast and a little chilly, but I didn’t think rain was in the forecast until later that day. I was wrong! The event had an additional category for Elites and Experts who wanted to ride longer called an Enduro. Since I was there for points in my class, I passed. A couple of guys in my class ended up doing it so the prospect for gaining valuable points was even greater.
The Vet II’s and my group headed out for the first of 2 9-mile loops. I sat in behind Anders Larson and another guy to get a feel for how I was going perform. Lately, it’s been a nice change knowing I can have a great start and feel good, not at LT from the gun. The guy in my group was ahead of Anders and was pulling away slightly so I passed Anders and sat in behind him. He was a good bike handler so I quickly set my goals as try to maintain contact with him in the woods, and try to drop him on the climbs. The first singletrack was fun and rolling, which made me start enjoying mountain biking again. At the first hill I knew I had more to give and pulled away from him. Then we hit the woods again which was more technical and he bridged the gap. I fumbled on a section where it seemed like we were riding on the top of a stone wall and he passed me. I hung with him for a while, but a couple more dabs by me and he was out of sight. As we came through the start/finish area, rain had become falling steadily meaning the next lap wasn’t going to be as fun as the first.
I should mention after failing to sell my Hutchinson Python tires on ebay because I think they’re in the northeast, I ran them at Sugarloaf because of their low-rolling resistance and dry conditions. I kept them on for today because the weather forecast was favorable. That’ll teach me to base my tire selection on weather! No surprise, they were very slippery on the 2nd lap. It’s so degrading to have your tires spinning out on climbs. It’s hard enough to ride up them, having zero traction is insult to injury.
At the beginning of the 2nd lap we hit the section called the wall and I saw the leader at the top and he had ridden up it so I went for it as well and made it. The nose of my saddle should be arrested for ASSault!
I bridged the gap to the leader as we went up the climb and passed him again. I worked hard knowing it was my best chance to put as much time as possible on him so I could ride the singletrack at my own pace dealing with the course conditions. I was cautious because it felt like I was riding on the ice rink. Amazingly, I went down once, but that was it and I stayed away coming home first.
This was a rewarding trip for many reasons: 1. I had fun off-road riding again. 2. I gained needed points putting me solidly in 3rd currently. 3. The prize money paid for gas and lunch.
Next up is the Green Mt. Stage Race in VT.

Saco Criterium, ME State Championship

Crowned Maine State Criterium Silver Medalist

I did this race last year for fun, representing my only road event of the year. I finished 11th in the Cat. 5 field and got lapped in the Masters 35+. This year, I’ve been taking road racing seriously and I wanted to focus on the higher profile Masters event as it carried USA Cycling’s State Crit Championship status. I also added an NECS mountain bike race for the next day so I just wanted to do 1 race today.
The family and I rose early (how great are they to allow their schedules to be totally dictated by my “hobby?”) as we were on Cape Cod all week and drove the distance to Saco. The weather was perfect and the race was held near a park and like 3 playgrounds so hopefully the kids were entertained. I’m sure Babs had visions of shopping!
The race started fast and stayed fast until the end. I spent the majority of the race about mid-pack, keeping in the draft. Even without wind-resistance, my heart rate showed I was going hard. There were a couple of crashes which generally shouldn’t happen in a field filled with experience and talent such as this. However, this course is pretty technical so the possibility exists for anything to happen to anyone.
Per usual, it came down to a sprint to the line. I’ve become decent at setting myself up in good position to have a good finish. I would never call myself a sprinter, so I know I can’t compete with the guys once the sprint starts. However, I want to make sure I’m as close to them as possible so I don’t get dropped too easily. My strategy is to set myself up into position on the final lap and be sure I’m at least in the top-10 going into the second to last corner, as opposed to the last corner. This worked well again today, as I maintained my position on the straightaway to the finish which was a LONG way down!
Then, the wait was on to see how many ME racers finished ahead of me as the state championship applies to residents. Turns out a Mainer finished 4th overall and won the gold, earning me the silver. I’ll take it, especially after last year’s result!
It was a good day, and it was great to come home later that day.
Next up is the NECS #7 in Newport, NH.

MMBA #5 Sugarloaf

1st/3 Expert Vet I

I headed to this race solo with my mind full of trepidation. The hillclimb the day before carried no official significance in the world of USA Cycling, it was just one of those “Climb it, because it’s there” situations. Today, it was back to defending my first place position in the Maine Mountain Bike Series. As luck would have it, Sugarloaf is the course with the most climbing of the summer. So, either I was going to be fatigued from the day before, or I was going to be OK as it was a good prep for Sunday. My coach Beau assured me doing the hillclimb was only going to help, so I believed him. Turns out he was right.
Babs and the boys put in a stellar effort at Mt. Washington. Today’s weather was poor, not very warm and scattered showers so there was no real incentive for them to go. That meant it was Camelback time again as I wanted to be sure I was properly hydrated for the 3 laps of climbing and I don’t like carrying 2 water bottles on the bike.
The start line was a ridiculous 4 wide section directly in front of a climb. I think a couple of guys actually opted to run up it! I got through unscathed in the top-5 and headed out on the open trail leading to the climb. My objective today was to race strategically. I wanted to be smart points-wise and keep Alan Starret (2nd in points) in sight. As I said, I had no idea what my legs would do today, so I decided to work them only as hard as I needed to avoid blowing up. Several riders passed me quickly. When I saw Big Al go by, I grabbed his wheel and let him set the pace up the hill. I felt good and as we neared the top, I decided to go around as we were heading to the singletrack sections where I didn’t want to risk losing contact with him. The way my trail riding was going, I was very worried about losing time in the woods. A singlespeeder joined us and we rode together back to the finish. I couldn’t believe it came around so quickly! I was glad to see they took out the steepest climb of the course by the condos. Instead, we rode some new singletrack and open trails. I hate it when new sections of trail are cut just prior to a race. We turn into guinea pigs and have to beat in the soft dirt and establish proper lines. Hopefully, the next time we race there it will be sweet thanks to our efforts.
I maintained the same pace on the next 2 laps and pulled away from Big Al, but could never lose the singlespeeder. I created a gap at the top of the last climb, but he would always catch up to me in the singletrack. He had a 29’r which I believe helps roll through a lot of the terrain. In the final section, I went hard and smooth and made a couple of timely passes of lapped riders and coasted into the finish. I have always liked Sugarloaf, and I liked it even more today. It actually felt easy. I guess Beau knows!
Next up is the Saco Crit.